I happened upon Rivers Solomon‘s novella The Deep a few months ago and instantly felt drawn to it. The cover features a mermaid and, I have a thing for the water and aquatic creatures of myth and legend.
The Deep tells the story of the wajinru, aquatic descendants of enslaved African woman who were tossed from ships during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Transformed by a mysterious force into something new, these wajinru have constructed civilisations deep in the ocean, far from their ancestral homes. In fact, they are so intent on keeping their past behind them that they have sealed away their History into a single wajinru. This so-called history bears the weight of the wajinru’s human ancestry and their brutal beginning. Tormented by this History, Yetu, the current historian, leaves her people behind. But, try as she might, she can never truly be free from her history, nor its consequences.
The concept of an aquatic people descended from the enslaved is some of the most unique worldbuilding I have ever seen. It is simple, yet powerful. Although I first met the idea of a single person holding the history of a society in the 2012 film The Giver, Solomon’s story didn’t feel like a rehash of that concept.
Yetu’s struggle is understandable. To feel alone in bearing the burden of the past amidst a people who only care to carry that burden when it is convenient to them is a terrible weight to carry. Solomon’s thesis statement, as it were can be summarized in a quotation from a character: “But your whole history. Your ancestry. That’s who you are.”
This message touched me because of my own personal journey to discover my ancestral roots. As far as I know, most of my ancestry hails from West Africa. But who were they? What did they believe? What, if anything do I retain from them?
Like the wajinru, who keep living despite not knowing where they came from, my fellow Jamaicans live on without knowing where we came from. Many (most?) of us aren’t even aware that the famous folklore figure Anansi is an Akan deity repackaged as a simple trickster. People protest our national language (Patwa/Jamaican Creole) being made our official language along side English, unaware that they are playing right into the hands of our racist colonial overlords, who saw us as uncivilized. In fact, the colonial power saw English as “the most important agent of civilization for the coloured population of the colonies.” (Language Education Policy, pg. 9)
Yetu’s struggle is the struggle of the African diaspora: The tug-of-war between the present and the past. And so, The Deep is a commentary of this post-colonial experience masterfully packaged in a Afrofantasy setting. I highly recommend it.